Photo and article by Donna Iverson
Whether you have lived here all your life or are a recent transplant, getting acquainted with the native plants in the Newaygo-Muskegon river watershed is worth the effort. And adding some native plants to your home landscape or garden brings many benefits. Such as:
The Newaygo-Muskegon watershed was once covered in white pine. And the flora along the Muskegon River was acclimated to a wetland habitat. In fact, in Ojibwa, the name Newaygo means “much water” and Muskegon translates as “swamp.”
Today white pine is making a comeback after it was almost logged to extinction by the turn of the 20th century. In 1955, in response to letters from school children, Michiganders made the eastern White Pine the state tree.
As for the watershed flora, it is also endangered due to the toxic dumping during the logging era. But like the pine tree, the native plants in our watershed are making a comeback. And that’s thanks to conservationists and gardeners.
Interest in native plants have been growing over the last decade, and many nurseries and garden centers now offer a native plant section. But be careful. Ask if the native plants were propagated at the nursery to be sure they weren’t removed from the wild.
Whether you are interested in planting a native garden or just want to add a native plant or two to the existing gardens, here are some suggestions: milkweed, coreopsis, delphinium, coneflower, sunflowers, liatris, primrose, lupine, bergamot, goldenrod, obedient plant, aster, spiderwort, ironweed, and rudbeckia, otherwise known as Black-eyed Susan. If you are a beginner, rudbeckia is probably the easiest to grow from seed.
While restoring habitat is enough reason to choose native plants, there are other advantages.
If you want to attract pollinators to your property, native plants are the way to go. Hybridized flowers may look impressive with their large flowers and showy foliage. But because they have been bred for flower size, they have lost their scent. And with their oversized double petals, pollinators are not able to reach the nectar.
Native plants, on the other hand, are indigenous to the same region as the pollinators that feed on them. Native plants usually have single flowers with nectar easily reached by bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds. They are strongly scented and brightly colored adding to their pollinator attraction.
In addition to restoring habitat and attracting pollinators, native plants are low maintenance. They require very little water, no pesticides and are not invasive and will thrive where planted.
To learn more about landscaping and gardening with native plants, check out the Muskegon Conservation District which sells plants native to Newaygo and Muskegon counties. They are located at 4735 Hilton Road in Twin Lake and have regular sales of native plants. You can sign up for notices at https://muskegoncd.org/projects-programs/native-landscaping/